• Natalie Hartney, LPC NCC

When Counseling Succeeds


When I was in grad school I heard a classic tale about counseling: A man is left in a cave with a challenge. He has enough provisions for 10 days, and must find his way out of the cave before his provisions are gone. A hole in the roof of the cave allows some light in.The edges of the cave are obscured in deep shadow. As the man glances around he notices boulders and rocks litter the ground, and he begins stacking them to reach the opening above. Day after day he stacks, building his escape route. On the last day, he stacks the last rock and labors up toward the light. He reaches up, but is just short of the opening. He cannot quite get there.  He perishes in the cave. When they came to remove him, they unblocked the entrance and a shaft of light bursts through the cave. In one of the areas that had been deep in shadow it becomes clear that there was an opening. The. Way. Out. 


I love this story because it illustrates that in everyday life we aim for the light, we want to feel better. We chat with friends, grab a massage, do general self care. We stack our boulders to get closer to the light. But, your wine is not your therapy, your church is not your therapy, your shopping certainly isn't therapy! Therapy metaphorically leads you through the darkness, lantern in hand, to find the way out of the cave. And, when therapy succeeds, there is real growth and healing. 


When therapy succeeds, old hurts aren't numbed, but processed and released. Memories that are distressing have been reformed as tolerable narratives supported by new perspectives. Old strategies that we mistakenly believed kept us safe are replaced with actual safe strategies! The upside to these changes are that they get you out of the cave. In my own therapeutic experience I used the term (long before I ever heard it at school) "stepping into the light." Healing from a traumatic past was like moving out of darkness and into light, or better stated, moving through the darkness, through the shadows, and into the warm sun of day. And that feels better.

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